Lakers cement disappointing playoff finish with Pelicans win

The Lakers defeated the Pelicans to grab the seventh seed and a conference finals rematch in the opening round of the playoffs.
Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron James
Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron James / Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers continued their hot run and dominance over the Pelicans with a victory to open the Play-In Tournament on Tuesday night. It was a second straight win in New Orleans, and this one secured them the seventh seed in the playoffs. The Lakers will be in the playoffs and look to build on last year’s run to the conference finals, but little is guaranteed.

Tuesday’s victory puts the Lakers against the Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs. It is a conference finals rematch where the eventual champions swept LA. LeBron James and company had no answers for Nikola Jokic and Denver in 2023. It is the worst possible matchup for the Lakers, but never count out King James.

There is little reason to believe things will be different this year. The Nuggets are the favorites to win the Western Conference and could be the first back-to-back champions since the Warriors in 2017 and 2018. LeBron and the Lakers likely sealed a first-round exit with their win in New Orleans.

The Lakers cannot win a series against the Nuggets

Not only was LA swept by Denver in the 2023 playoffs, but they lost all three meetings versus the Nuggets this season. The Lakers do not have a size edge against Nikola Jokic and Aaron Gordon. They also have no answers for slowing down Jamal Murray.

The Nuggets were fourth in offensive rating and eight on the other end of the floor in 2024. They have no weaknesses and have the best homecourt advantage in the NBA.

Just making the series more competitive would be a massive win for the Lakers. They have had to rely heavily on King James down the stretch to move up to eighth in the regular season standings and secure the seventh seed. How much does the 39-year-old have left in the tank? They will have Gordon on him for most of the series, which is not an easy matchup for anyone.

James and Anthony Davis are superstars. The Los Angeles Lakers have more talent than they did in 2023 and the Nuggets arguably have less after losing Bruce Brown and Jeff Green in free agency last summer. Does it change the series? It doesn’t seem like it will, but it is impossible to count out the Lakers completely.

They made a deep playoff run from the Play-In Tournament last season, and the Heat were in the NBA Finals in 2023 after playing in both play-in contests in the East. It is not impossible, but the odds are stacked against LA.

The Los Angeles Lakers won four of five meetings against the Pelicans this season, including three marquee matchups. They had New Orleans' number, but Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets have the Lakers. LeBron and AD won’t go down without a fight, but the Play-In Tournament win likely secured a first-round playoff exit.

LA will make changes if they are unable to upset the Nuggets. Does Darvin Ham return as head coach? Can they improve the talent around James and Davis? Does D’Angelo Russell stay after a career year? There are a ton of questions and the noise will only get louder if the Lakers crash out in the opening round of the playoffs, so stay tuned.